Chassidic leader. Son of R' Avraham HaMalach. Father of R' Yisrael of Rizhin.
Rabbi Shalom Shachna was born to Rabbi Avraham HaMalach, and his second wife, the daughter of R' Feivel of Kremenitz. He was named after his great-grandfather, who was named after R' Shalom Shachna of Lublin, teacher and father-in-law of R' Moshe Isserles, the Rema. Shalom was about 8 years old when his father passed away. His mother eventually resettled in Eretz Yisrael, never revealing her identity, working as a laundress until her death. She is buried in Teveria.
Shalom and his older brother Yisrael Chaim were left in the custody of R' Shlomo of Karlin, who took responsibility for the children's education, and, when the time came, arranged shidduchim (matches) for them. To Yisrael Chaim, he gave his daughter's hand in marriage. He then sought a suitable match for R' Shalom Shachna.
R' Shlomo sent two emissaries to a certain town to arrange the match. Before they set out, he warned them: "On your way you will pass Prohovitch, where R' Nachum of Chernobyl lives. Do not stop."
As they passed Prohovitch that Friday, while R. Nachum was napping, he was told in a dream, "Now is your chance to marry off your granddaughter to the Maggid's grandson!" In the dream R. Avraham HaMalach appeared, and shook R' Nachum's hand in agreement. When he awoke, R. Nachum asked those present, "Did a wagon just pass?" They replied that a wagon bearing two passengers had indeed just passed, traveling rapidly. He instructed someone to catch up with it and bring its passengers back to Prohovitch.
When R. Shlomo's emissaries came to R. Nachum, he told them of the dream and convinced them that the shidduch had already been arranged Above between himself and R' Shalom's father, and that any other arrangements were invalid. Thus R' Shalom Shachna married Chavah, the daughter of R' Nachum's daughter Malka. They settled in Prohovitch, where R' Nachum supported them.
A Special Guest
On their way to the wedding in Chernobyl, R. Shlomo and R. Shalom Shachna passed through Berditchev and R' Levi Yitzchak honored them with a festive meal. When they left Berditchev, R' Levi Yitzchak sent musicians to escort them out of town and he himself danced before them. Later, his wife asked, "Why did you have to lower yourself by dancing like a child? Wasn't it enough that you treated them to such a banquet?" "How could I not dance before the groom," replied R. Levi Yitzchak, "when Eliyahu the Prophet was dancing, too?"
A New Style of Life
R' Shalom Shachna blazed a new trail in Chassidut, which was broadened by his son, R' Yisrael of Rizhin, and followed by the Rebbes of the Rizhin-Sadigora dynasty. He conducted himself in a most regal fashion. Instead of the white, silken bekeshe of his forebears, he preferred a stylish woolen outfit, even though the chassidim shunned woolen garments for fear of sha'atnez (a forbidden admixture of wool and linen). He dressed before a mirror, an act permitted by the Talmud only to the descendants of Rabban Gamliel. His hair was styled, his peyot short, and instead of the old-fashioned pipe, he smoked expensive cigarettes. He lived in a beautiful, exquisitely furnished house and insisted that his wife dress fashionably.
Even his Avodat HaShem defied the norm. During the month of Elul, when everyone prayed and studied with unusual intensity in anticipation of judgment on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, R. Shalom Shachna spent most of the day in the forest. Only toward evening did he return home for his meal.
For anyone else, such behavior might have been suspect, but R' Nachum knew who R'. Shalom Shachna was, even if he didn't know why he adopted such practices. The Chassidic movement grew ever stronger. Once the task of founding the Chassidic movement had been completed, with tens of thousands of faithful adherents following the tenets of the movement, R' Shalom Shachna paved the way for a national revival by restoring the crown of the exilarchs. In those troubled times, R' Shalom Shachna single-handedly built a royal house.
Asked why his father, R' Shalom Shachna, chose such a perilous path of pomp and ostentation, R' Yisrael of Rizhin replied, "The Baal Shem Tov gave our patriarch, the Maggid of Mezritch, a precious jewel - the path of true Chassidut. The Maggid hid it in a fortress of Torah and prayer, but the thieves from Above, Satan and his cohorts, broke into the fortress to destroy the gem. My grandfather, R' Avraham the Malach, polished it and built it into a fortress of holiness and purity, by means of fasting and mortification. But the bandits persisted. So my father devised a new strategy - he hid the stone in a rubbish bin of pride, glory, and honor. This hiding place proved much safer, for the thieves never expected to find a precious jewel there."
R' Shalom's chassidim were surprised by this prescription for repentance. "The pain of this woman's conscience is punishment enough," the Rebbe explained, "for one lash from the heart hurts more than one hundred floggings and fasts. She should strive to reverse her sin - the destruction of a Jewish soul. By returning to her husband and strengthening herself, she will give birth to a child. If she remains in exile and continues fasting, she may never be able to achieve complete repentance."
When he emerged from the Tzaddik's chambers, the man told R. Yisrael's astonished chassidim, "Don't think I am a great person, for I am a simple Jew. This is what happened: My brother and I agreed that whoever of us died first would tell the other about the next world. My brother passed away twenty years ago, but only a few days ago did he finally appear to me in a dream. He told me that on the day he died, R' Shalom Shachna also passed away. 'Make way!' a voice was heard on High, and all the Tzaddikim came to greet him. My brother then heard it proclaimed, 'Whoever passed away today will be exempt from suffering in the grave! Whoever beheld R' Shalom's face on Earth will escape retribution in Hell. And whoever gave him a Pidyon will be spared all punishment!'
"'Oh, my brother,' I began to cry, 'now that R. Shalom Shachna is no longer in this world, how can I gain merit?'
"'His son R. Yisrael of Rizhin is a Tzaddik like him,' my brother said. 'Giving him half a ruble is like giving his father a Pidyon.' That's why I came today," he concluded. R' Yisrael later said of this man, "Since his motivation was so pure, I received him with honor."
Rabbi Shalom on Suffering...
Our Sages tell us, "Whoever sees suffering coming upon him should examine his deeds. If his examination uncovers nothing, his plight hinges on the neglect of Torah study" (Berachot 5a). R. Shalom Shachna asked several questions about this statement. First, why does it say suffering is "coming upon him," rather than "he is suffering"? Second, how could his examination have uncovered nothing? Is anyone free of sin? Finally, why does his plight hinge on bitul Torah, as if that were no sin at all? Everyone knows it is one of the gravest!
He therefore explained, "Usually, one must accept suffering lovingly, but physical suffering prevents a person from learning Torah, praying, and serving God. Thus, if one sees suffering coming upon him, that is, upon his body, he should search his deeds for something meritorious with which to pray to God for salvation. If he finds nothing, his salvation hinges on the fact that he will be forced to neglect his Torah studies because of his suffering. He should therefore pray, "Master of the Universe! If I have to suffer physical illness, I won't be able to serve You. Better You should heal me so I can serve You properly.
On erev Sukkot, 1802, during the 3rd meal of shabbat R. Shalom Shachna died, at the age of 42. At that exact moment The Chozeh of Lublin was sitting with his chassidim and cried out when he felt the soul of R' Shalom leaving the world, but he was quickly comforted after realizing that he was leaving two righteous sons behind him. His eldest son, Rabbi Avraham, then 16, entered the Sukkah and sat in his father's chair, his face full of joy.
"Why are you happy?" his mother demanded. "No one rejoices after his father's death!"
"Mother," R' Avraham answered immediately, "if you were to see our father's exalted state in Heaven, you would be as ecstatic as I."
Chassidic tradition maintains that R' Shalom Shachna possessed a "spark" of King David's soul and that his son R' Yisrael of Rizhin had a spark of King Solomon.
The wisdom of Rabbi Shlaom Shachna was recorded in the book, Chesed Le'Avraham / Mashmea Shalom (Hebrew).
May the merit of the tzaddik Rabbi Shalom Shachna protect us all, Amen.